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Regarding Immigration, what is a Coyote?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 23, 2024
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A coyote or pollero is someone who specializes in human smuggling, bringing people across the United States border from Mexico. Coyotes typically have extensive experience in smuggling people and other goods, and they use a variety of techniques to get their clients over the border, ranging from sneaking across the desert to hiding smuggled immigrants in trucks. Illegal border crossings are often extremely dangerous, and many coyotes command a high fee as a result; often, this fee must be paid up front, in case an immigrant does not make it across.

Many people differentiate between human smuggling and human trafficking when discussing the illegal flow of people across a border. A human smuggler like a coyote helps people get across the border for a fee, and then generally lets them go, while human traffickers exploit their victims, essentially selling them as slaves. However, in some cases, coyotes have been known to use manipulative or sleazy tactics to squeeze more money out of their clients, such as threatening them with the authorities or indicating that their relatives might be in danger.

There are a number of reasons to choose to use a coyote, rather than attempting to get a visa and immigrate legally. Many refugees turn to coyotes because they are denied refugee status or they cannot take the time to apply for refugee status, because they fear for their lives. In other cases, people are unfamiliar with the visa application process, unwilling to wait, or unwilling to deal with the bureaucratic red tape involved, which can be extensive. In areas where officials are corrupt, it may make more sense to pay a coyote than to pay a parade of officials demanding a cut from desperate visa applicants.

A coyote typically relies on a word of mouth reputation, with people at home and in the United States exchanging information about which coyotes are honest and reputable. If a coyote becomes known for demanding more money, for example, it may be difficult to find work. Once immigrants select a coyote, they rely on the coyote to guide them safely through the immigration process.

Because of tightening restrictions at the border, the role of the coyote has gotten much more complicated, and for immigrants, the process has become fraught with danger. Numerous immigrants die trying to cross the desert each year, and while some are found, providing closure for their families, others are simply never heard from again. Immigrants have also died while trapped in trucks and shipping containers, and some have drowned while trying to swim the Rio Grande, while others have been shot by border patrol or vigilante groups.

PublicPeople is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a PublicPeople researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments
By jessiwan — On Dec 13, 2013

"When something threatens you and your survival, your perspective will change"

So what are you trying to say? That in desperate times people will do desperate things, such as going into a country illegally? And that the rest of us are supposed to just turn a blind eye, because "you and your survival is threatened"?

I say we should seal the border right now and kick out all illegal immigrants in the US. We do not need people who are trying find excuses for their law-breaking behaviors.

By anon260084 — On Apr 09, 2012

In my case, I honestly don't care about the system right now. I want to find a coyote for my husband but am so scared for his safety. My family is very conservative and of course, do not agree with illegal immigration, but now that it affects the family, things do change. My husband and I have been married a year and a half. He is a hard worker and great husband who has supported me in nursing school.

I'm pregnant and he's being held in jail on an immigration hold. How is that fair? I know life is not fair. He cannot get papers because of his driving record from a few years ago. He has been here six years. We dated for three years and have been married a year and a half and he's got a son on the way – the first.

This bureaucratic system is preventing him from being the father he wants to be and this is ridiculous. The system doesn't care who it affects. If you're married and have children, they should not be so ridiculous! Something needs to be changed. Trafficking is horrible, obviously, but across the border, how else are people supposed to do anything else?

I've had to move away from my home, and I do not currently work. I can't pregnant in my field of work anyway, I'm a full time student and I spent all our savings on immigration lawyers who can do nothing and I'm depending on my parents at 22 to help me with me baby? It's embarrassing. Just a week before he got detained, we had put an offer in on a house. What about people like him? Yeah, do it the right way, but what if you're already here and it affects a little child? I am a legal American, by the way, and yes, you can legally marry an illegal immigrant. When something affects you and your survival, your perspective will change; I guarantee it!

By GlassAxe — On Dec 19, 2010

@ Fiorite- I hear your argument, but I don't see all of this as the fault of illegal immigrants. When it comes down to it all, we are all just a bunch of human beings trying to survive. This country was founded on immigration, and sometimes forced emigration. If we value our constitution and the law of the land so dearly, we cannot be hypocrites and make it easier for some to enter this country than others. The immigration process is set up so that it favors people from affluent societies.

I agree that we should seek to attract people who will build this nation...seek contributors, but I think that any honest worker should be given a chance. I am not pro illegal immigration; I am just anti enforcing illegal immigration laws that make people trying to survive into criminals. The history of Phoenix (my home city) is a history of immigrants forcing native Mexican and Native American people from their land by force and by actions such as imminent domain and dividing lines. Our nation is one of tolerance. As far as the immigration debate is concerned, I just believe that we should focus energy on removing illegal immigrants that pose a serious threat to our well-being, just as we remove hardened criminals of our own citizenship from our streets.

By Fiorite — On Dec 17, 2010

@ GlassAxe- How can you not have an opinion about illegal immigration?! Immigrants should follow the same rules as everyone else to get here, not cut in line and use up all of the resources reserved for tax paying Americans. We lose jobs to illegal immigrants, they run up our health care bill, they are often on social support systems, and they bring drugs across the border that corrupt the minds of our youth. I live in Los Angeles, and some of the worst neighborhoods are neighborhoods filled with gangs of illegal immigrants. I respect your opinion, but I just don't understand how people can be so on the fence about this issue.

By GlassAxe — On Dec 15, 2010

I live in Arizona and there are news stories about coyotes all the time. One recent bust centered around a tour company that was using its vans to shuttle illegal immigrants around the state. It sickens me to see people who are only involved in the trafficking of humans to make money. I understand that people are desperate to leave their country, but the tactics used by these coyotes and traffickers border on extortion.

I don't really have a positive or negative opinion about illegal immigration, but I do not like the human trafficking that comes with it. To me, this is the biggest reason for immigration reform...too many people dying in trunks of cars, nameless in the desert, or sold into slavery and prostitution.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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